Today’s culture has come to fear and even hate those who think differently from themselves. The prevailing mantra is: If you don't share my personal convictions and opinions, then you're wrong. Empathy, trying to understand a topic from another’s point of view and respect it, is a seemingly lost practice. More often, people refuse to walk around in another person’s shoes; they choose to hate those who think differently—and their shoes.
Sadly, Christians have garnered themselves a reputation for being hypocritical, close-minded, and judgmental because they often disrespect others' convictions and perspectives. The Bible instructs Christians to live differently than the worldly culture, and yet, even amongst Christian communities and individuals, we find ever more dissension. Differing thoughts on what's "allowed" and what isn't, entertainment choices, hobbies, worship styles, and other personal convictions can cause disagreements that lead to self-righteous, dead-end arguments.
Luckily for us, the Bible addresses this very thing.
Go read 1 Corinthians 8. It's a short chapter. Here, I'll even give you a link.
The Corinthian church asked the apostle Paul if it was right or wrong to eat meat that was used as sacrifices to pagan gods. This issue caused a huge division in Corinth, the location of one of the first organized Christian churches. These early Christians were mostly Jews who believed that Jesus was indeed the Messiah. Prior to Jesus, Jews had hundreds of rules to follow in order to "please God"—many of these pertaining to foods that were forbidden to eat. So it makes sense that they were confused by this new "freedom in Christ" thing.
Imagine growing up believing that eating pork was a mortal sin. Then Jesus comes on the scene and says, "Naw, it's fine!" and suddenly everyone is eating ham and bacon sandwiches! Wouldn't it feel kind of weird, naughty, or even dangerous to some? They had been following God in one way for so long that some couldn't fathom doing it any other way. Others recognized their freedom in Christ and ate the sacrificed meat, contrary to tradition, and the two groups were soon at each other's throats.
How did Paul resolve their disagreement?
Paul told the Corinthians who were eating the sacrificed meat that they were free to eat whatever they wanted. Wait...what? Even a lamb sacrificed to Zeus? Yep! Meat offered to a god that doesn’t exist has zero effect the one true God, so it's not sinful to eat. But then Paul addressed those who felt that eating sacrificed mutton was a sin and affirmed that, yes, in that case, it IS a sin. But...wait...what?
Let's back up...
Christians who have accepted Jesus as their Lord and Savior have gained tremendous freedom in Christ (John 8:36). No longer are they held to those Old Covenant rules. Those rules were intended to help Jews recognize their own sin and need for a Savior—never to be used as a means of tallying points of perfection (Romans 3:10). But freedom from rules was a new concept for Christ-followers, and it took time for each person to come to terms with how they handled their newfound freedom.
See, freedom doesn’t necessarily mean "do what you want." 1 Corinthians 10:23 says, "'I have the right to do anything,' you say—but not everything is beneficial. 'I have the right to do anything'—but not everything is constructive." Sometimes we get that niggling whisper that tells us not to do something, and that's when it should be avoided (James 4:17).
We may not disagree on sacrificial meat anymore, but Christians today still find ways to disagree—contemporary music or hymns; Netflix or PureFlix; tattoos and piercings or no body modification at all; marriage or singleness; and more. What Paul is saying is that it's not the THING that matters; what matters is that you RESPECT what another person is convinced is right for them while also sticking to what you are convinced is right for you (Romans 14:5).
"Keep your belief about such matters between yourself and God. Blessed is the one who does not condemn himself by what he approves. But the one who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that is not from faith is sin." —Romans 14:22-23
If Jacob believes eating the meat is God's gift and eats it, he has NOT sinned. If Eli believes eating the meat is a sin and eats it anyway, he HAS sinned. Not because Eli ate, but because he was willing to go against what he believed God wanted him to do. Did you catch that? Any rebellion against God (even if it wouldn’t have been a sin to begin with) is SIN.
Now if Jacob was with Eli, knowing Eli was convicted not to eat the meat, but Jacob eats it in front of him, encouraging Eli to eat it as well, then both of them have sinned. Again, not because they ate the meat, but because Jacob wounded Eli’s conscience and caused Eli to go against his conviction of what he believed was God’s way.
"...if food makes my brother stumble, I will never eat meat, lest I make my brother stumble." —1 Corinthians 8:13
We are all at different places in our faith journey. Each of us have differing levels of biblical knowledge; experiences in relationships, church, family, or friends; weaknesses or temptations—every faith journey is unique. We may all love Jesus, but we'll still approach our faith and personal convictions in our own ways—and that's OK.
Some have a strong foundation of biblical wisdom. Some still need to learn the basics. Some are close to God. Others are still making those first tentative connections. But we'll always have more to learn, understand, and apply about God’s plan for our lives, so we need not knock each other down (Romans 14:10).
If, in the end, you cannot come to an agreement regarding a particular conviction, don’t be a hater. You don’t have to part ways, ghost, or unfriend one another! In Christian love, continue to grow in friendship and knowledge in Christ. The closest friendships are ones in which friends challenge one another to think differently and consider other perspectives (see Proverbs 27:17).
With the freedom to act and make choices that we're convicted to follow, we can continue to pursue righteousness and expand our understanding within the freedom and safety of Christian brotherhood and sisterhood.
Rhonda is an author, wife, mother, and mentor. She graduated from the University of Missouri with a degree in English and Religious studies. She loves studying God’s Word for truth and wisdom and uses it as a compass and roadmap for her own spiritual journey. Rhonda believes in sharing the Good News and the hope found in Biblical truths with others. She uses her writing and mentoring opportunities (often with a pinch of humor) to do just that.